What's the Difference Between a Poison Ivy Rash and a Poison Oak Rash?

If you’ve spent much time outdoors, you’re probably no stranger to poison ivy or poison oak. If you’ve been fortunate enough, you’ve avoided coming in contact with these pesky plants, but if you haven’t been so fortunate, you’ve probably suffered a tremendously itchy rash.

We know that both plants cause rashes, so what’s the difference between them? Find out below as our AFC Urgent Care Hixson team explains.

What Are Poison Ivy and Poison Oak?

Poison ivy is a vine with leaves growing in clusters of threes and is common all across the United States. It usually grows close to the ground, but it can also grow on trees or rocks as a vine or small shrub. The leaves are somewhat pointed, have an intense green color that can be yellowish or reddish at certain times of the year, and are sometimes shiny with urushiol oil.

Poison oak, on the other hand, has leaves that are more rounded, less pointy and have a textured, hair-like surface, although they still grow in clusters of threes. Poison oak grows as a low shrub most commonly in the southeast. If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms below, you’ve probably come in contact with one of these plants.

Common Symptoms

  • Red and itchy skin, which is often an early symptom
  • A red rash that develops in streaks or patches where the plant has touched the skin
  • A red rash that becomes bumpy with or without small to large wet blisters

Why Do These Plants Cause a Rash?

Poison ivy and poison oak (along with poison sumac, which is less common) contain a toxic oil called urushiol. Urushiol irritates the skin of most people exposed to it.

In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, 85% of people develop a swollen, itchy red rash when they get urushiol on their skin. The rash develops 12 to 72 hours after coming into contact with urushiol and can last between two to four weeks. We’ve listed a few ways you can prevent yourself from getting a rash below.

Prevention Tactics

  • Avoid the plants. This sounds simple, but it’s important to learn how to identify poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac in all seasons. When hiking or engaging in other activities that might expose you to these plants, try to stay on cleared pathways.
  • Remove the plants from your yard, or consider hiring a professional to care of them.
  • Wash your skin or pet’s fur. Within 30 minutes after exposure to urushiol, use soap and water to gently wash off the oil from your skin. Even washing after an hour or so can help reduce the severity of the rash. If you think your pet may have gotten into poison ivy, put on some long rubber gloves and give your pet a bath to get rid of the oil.
  • Fully cover your skin when spending time in areas that may be inhabited by these plants.

Has your child recently been to Camp Vesper Point or another summer camp and come home with a rash? Don’t hesitate to visit our AFC Urgent Care Hixson center today to get the treatment he or she needs!